Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Limited Exposure, Limited Dream - Rich's Foxwillow Pines Nursery

"Limited exposure, limited dream."  - Rich Eyre

Last month I had the pleasure of visiting Rich's Foxwillow Pines Nursery, 1618 McDonnell Road, Woodstock, IL. If you have not yet been, please plan to make a trip. It's a great way to get your horticulture fix in the middle of winter.

Rich Eyre and his super sweet wife, Susie, have much more to offer than just pines. Not only do they propegate and grow some of the world's rarest and most beautiful conifers, they also offer visitors (if you're lucky enough to stay and chat a while), a unique outlook on life and inspiration to follow your dreams and contribute positively to humanity.

"The dream is everything" - Rich Eyre

Rich comes from a long line of farmers and gardeners. His mother sparked his interest in evergreens when she would buy baby plants for the family to grow on their property. His interest grew while in the Peace Corps in Bolivia in the late 60's. He then undertook a journey across the Midwest with a good friend searching for, as Rich puts it, "cold beer, rare trees, and hot women."  He came back with selections never before grown commercially in our area, and along with a purchase of 6-7000 additional trees, he started his unique business. Now the Eyre's grow over 2500 cultivars of rare conifers and evergreens on over 30 acres of property.

"Be humble, frugal, have a good dream, and work like hell." - Rich Eyre

Rich and Susie Eyre are world hunger advocates and volunteer and raise funds for Heifer International, an organization they are extremely passionate about. After my visit with Rich and Susie, not only was I more excited about pursuing my horticultural interests and landscape business, but I was inspired to take on hunger in my community as well.

But, back to the plants. Rich believes that fastigiate (narrow in form, columnar) trees are the future for urban spaces that don't have a lot of space, so he has cultivated fastigiate forms of white pine, Colorado spruce, and Ginkgo.

Rich grows his trees in rows, not of the same tree in each row, but all mixed up - no two like trees next to each other. This approach is unique in comparison to other growers who grow their stock in long rows of identical trees. The makes it easier to add-on additional trees to buyers who may come looking for one species, and find interest in the one next to it. Smart.

I hope you can find the time to visit Rich's Foxwillow Pines Nursery in the near future and bring home one of his gems for your landscape.

Evergreens are more than green!

Different varieties of dwarf conifers grown together

Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Green Arrow'

Picea pungens and Pinus parviflora

A lovely mix of form

An incredible Pinus strobus 'Pendula'

The babes warm in the greenhouse

I instantly fell in love with this Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Harvard Gold'.
Isn't he cute?

More: Fine Cones

Monday, February 27, 2012

Pinterest for Vegetable Gardeners

If you're not on Pinterest yet, what are you waiting for? Don't know what it is? Well, I consider it a place to organize all of those great ideas I see on the web into one place. I used to email myself a link to interesting web pages, but those would clutter up my inbox or get lost. Now, I just create a board (consider it a file folder) on Pinterest and "pin" pictures there. The pictures are linked to the web page, and are organized on my boards.

Here I am on Pinterest, and if you like this blog, you would probably enjoy my gardening and food pins.

Another board you might find interesting is the Vegetable Garden Bloggers and Writers United board. It's full of hepful tips for new and experienced food gardeners.

Now, get on Pinterest! If you need an invite, just send me an email and I will get one out to you. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Want to Start Your Seeds in Chicagoland? Be Patient!

The January/February 2012 issue of Chicagoland Magazine features planning guides for the year for annuals, shrubs, and vegetables. I found the vegetable guide particularly helpful; between starting seeds, planning for cold crops, and continuous harvests, all those dates can become confusing! Caught up in all of the excitement going on in the garden in late July, for example, I always miss the indoor sowing time for the cold fall crops like broccoli, and they are always sold out of the garden center by then.

Pick yourself up a copy and check out page 52 and 53. There is also space to add in your own items, so you can maintain a comprehensive to-do list for the year.

By the way, don't start your tomatoes and peppers until mid-March!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hot Garden Trend: Bug Homes

It all starts with the bugs!

Attracting beneficial bugs brings lots of positive aspects to your garden. They eat the baddies, serve as a food source for birds, and pollinate your vegetable plants. So why not try adding an insect hotel to your garden this year?

Bug homes are trendy this year, so there are lots available for purchase, but you can easily make one with items you may already have at home. It's a great project for kids, and supports your local ecosystem.

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To do this on the cheap, take any type of household container with a wide opening, like a large yogurt container or coffee can, or use a two-liter bottle with the bottom cut off. Fill with bamboo or sticks, and hang somewhere damp and cool for maximum inhabitation, like under a tree branch. For more information on bug homes visit:
Making a bug home

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Support Your Local Conservation Groups

You might have heard recently about the partnership between the National Wildlife Foundation and Scotts, makers of Miracle Grow, toxic lawn products and pesticide tainted birdseed. This was disappointing, considering that NWF chose to partner with a company whose products harm the animals they claim to protect. Many supporters of NWF are outraged, cancelling their memberships and removing their backyard "Certified Wildlife Habitat" signs. About a week later, NWF announced that they ended the partnership in light of a suit which fined Scotts $4.5 million for selling toxic birdseed and falsifying records.

There is an alternative to supporting NWF if you are strongly against their decision to partner with Scotts. You can support one of your local conservation groups. Most areas have one, and by working with a local group, you can have an impact on your local environment. You can get involved and have a say in how your local wildlife and land is protected.
Conservation at Home Logo

In my area in the Chicago suburbs, The Conservation Foundation (headquartered in Naperville, IL) does a wonderful job advocating for the environment and educating the community on ways to help. Their Conservation@Home program recognizes homeowners who chosen to create natural habitats for wildlife, conserve water, and refrain from using harmful chemicals on their own property. After applying, and visit from a CF representative, qualified homeowners can proudly display a Conservation@Home sign in their yard and educate others in their community by example. Call my friend Jim Kleinwachter at 630-553-0687, Ext. 302 or email him This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for more information or to become certified. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Giving Gardens to Those in Need

My husband and I were thinking about 2012 goals for our family, and agreed that volunteering was something we wanted to do more of. My first thought was Habitat for Humanity - I wanted to build veggie gardens for Habitat homes and educate the homeowners on how to support their families by growing their own food. Without knowing for sure if they would be accepting of the idea since their main focus is on shelter, I quickly registered for a new volunteer meeting.

Then, on a trip to the library with the kids, I found the book Reclaiming Our Food, by Tanya Denckla Cobb. I had taken the kids to the "adult section" of the library, which I hardly ever do because they are very, shall we say, boisterous children, and I am worried they will disturb the other patrons. We usually stay in the kid-friendly areas of the library. But this time, I was looking for a landscape graphics book, which I quickly found and headed back to the staircase to the children's area. On the way, we passed a shelf housing new arrivals and Reclaiming Our Food jumped out at me. I grabbed it and checked it out without reading anything more than the title.

It proved to be a serendipitous find, because I think it has changed my life.

Many of my friends know that I battled stage 3 breast cancer back in 2003. Since then, I've been on a mission to gain more out of life. I've been fortunate enough to have a happy marriage and two beautiful kids (who I thought I'd never meet). And in the last few years, I've found my calling career-wise in the field of landscape design. I love designing gardens and have met some awesome people since I started Tina Koral Gardens. You'd think that would be enough, and in most ways, it is. But something was missing. I wanted to help others who needed it, and teach my kids how important it is to do so. So when I opened this book and read the very first section, "Giving Gardens to People in Need," I was inpired to do just that. I talked to the hubby and he agreed that it was a good idea, because we believe everyone deserves access to organic, fresh vegetables. And this project would combine my love of gardening and growing vegetables with his interest in carpentry. I called Habitat to tell them that I would not be attending the volunteer meeting, and set to work planning our new project.

Garden accessories for five families ready to go!

My husband and I committed to build five kitchen gardens this year for five individuals or families in need. This is not a new idea - as I mentioned earlier, I had read about The Home Gardening Project in Reclaiming Our Food. There are programs like this all around the country, but as far as I know, none in the Chicagoland area (if you know of any organization who is giving vegetable gardens, please let me know).

I've already purchased some tools and accessories, and now we will set to work obtaining raised bed garden kits, soil, compost, seeds and starts, and a basic gardening book to provide to five local families at no charge. We will identify those in need with the help of the fine folks at our local food pantries. We will solicit local businesses for supplies or monetary donations.

I will keep you updated as plans progress. If you want to help in any way, or have any ideas, please let me know by emailing tina@tinakoralgardens.com.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fine Cones

On a recent trip to Rich's Foxwillow Pines, 11618 McConnell Road, Woodstock, IL 60098, I was enchanted by some of the rarest and most beautiful conifers. I was especially drawn to the cones, and would like to share a few with you.